My Reality (Not Rules) When Traveling with Kids

Amazing sights, endless wanderlust, growing together & family bonding, this is why we travel and always will travel with our kid.

A while back there was an article on CNN GO titled the “5 Rules of Traveling with Kids.” I’m not sure where the author got her information, but most of it was inaccurate. Credit was not given to kids. Credit was definitely not given to parents who are actually parenting.

Even more flabbergasting than the title of the article was the subhead, which read, “ You’re not in control.” I’m sorry, but I am the mom. I am in control of what my little guy does. Yes, plans change and we butt heads over what he should be doing at any given moment or what he should eat, but I have never doubted that I am the mom and Dek is the kid.

Above all, the author underestimated just how amazing families are and what a great job parents are doing at raising their kids around the world. Travel with babies and toddlers doesn’t have to be the painful, torturous experience some would lead you to believe it is. Just have a little patience, persistence and a sense of humor. So here we go. Let’s get down to the reality of traveling with small kids.

  • Babies and toddlers can get over jet lag, sometimes quicker than you. The author claims that the younger the kid, the harder it is for them to adjust. I have actually found the opposite. The older Dek gets and the more set he is in his sleep patterns, the more trouble he has switching over. But he does switch over. Dek may get up at 3am for a snack or a little play time the first night, but I’m up anyway because of my own jet lag. Sometimes I pull him into bed with me and we pass back out. Sometimes after a snack he is ready to crawl back into his own bed. We make it work. We certainly don’t stop traveling because of jet lag. Heck, even with infants, you are up every few hours for feedings anyway. What’s the difference if you are on a different time zone?

This is what infant jet lag can look like. Not bad huh? Our 1st day in Hong Kong after 24 hours of travel. Dek was 14 months old.

  • Kid-friendly food is not necessary. Do not underestimate your kid’s palates. They may just surprise you with how much they are willing to explore and try out when no other options are available. One way to help prepare your kids for new tastes is to eat a variety of foods at home. A diet of  hot dogs and Hamburger Helper isn’t that great for them anyway. Dek has had McDonalds all of 3 times. He also does not get junk food or sugar snacks. All of these contribute to his love of new foods. I never look at a restaurant and think “oh I hope there is mac n’ cheese on the menu so Dek will eat something.” No, I look at the menu and say, “wow that pasta, steak, lamb chop looks amazing!” It all starts at home. Give your child variety, let them try new things and start early. Babies love to pick food off your plate, so make sure your plate is full of fantastic flavors you might encounter around the world. Do not let your kid’s eating preferences determine where you travel too. You can always find something to keep everyone happy.

Dek doesn't care if its sushi, dim sum, tacos, green beans or burgers. He'll eat it all. At 2.5 years old this may be unique, but it doesn't have to be

  • Entertainment comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. With the invention of the iPad, Kindle Fire and Leap Frog gadgets packing just got a lot easier and lighter. You don’t need two duffel bags full of toys, books, crayons and games to keep your kids entertained on a plane. I pack a small zip lock bag of favorite (and sometimes new) matchbox cars, 5 crayons, a small coloring book or notebook and my Kindle Fire loaded with games and movies. Dek is entertained for hours. Literally. And what is wrong with getting up from your seat to take a walk and explore the plane a little more. It’s good for all of you to stretch and get some exercise regularly on a flight. If you are worried about your kids demanding TV the entire trip just because you have your iPad with you, set a precedent early. Videos are for planes only. Once you arrive stash the electronics and go out to explore.

Big hotel room with a little bag of toys. We had a city to explore!

  • Don’t pack every single thing you could possibly need.
    • Toys: You are going on vacation. There will be plenty of things to entertain your child. You shouldn’t be sitting in your hotel playing with toys all day anyway. Bring a small bag of favorites and let your location be your main source of fun. If you get desperate, many popular vacation sights have agencies that you can rent toys from for a few dollars a day.
    • Books and Bedtime: Some kids, including my own, can not live without their little blankie or stuffed animal. If you start early enough, you can make sure your kid is attached to something that is easy to pack and won’t take up half your suitcase. Now all you need is the security blanket or animal and 2 books for bed time. That’s it. That’s all you need.
    • Clothing: Baby and toddler clothing is tiny. They don’t take up much room. I still pack more clothes for Dek than I do for myself and yet we still travel with the exact number of suitcases we did before Dek was born. And I even pack a couple of pairs of shoes for me!
    • Buy it there: Shopping is fun in a new place. Diapers, wipes, etc. can usually be found in most places. Unless you are going to a remote area or are very specific about what brand you will use, you don’t need to worry about packing this stuff. If you are worried about the price difference, just figure you are saving $25-50 in baggage fees. Use that as your extra cash for baby necessities. Another option is to order what you will need online and have it shipped to your final destination. I do this all the time when we head back east to visit the family. Diapers, wipes and formula are waiting for us when we arrive.

  • Strollers are multifunctional. We use our stroller for everything. Kid carrier, luggage cart, shopping cart. You name it, I’ll use a stroller for it. We don’t pack a huge, bulky, over the top stroller on any trip. I have 2 such strollers, but after Dek’s first few months they got stashed in a closet. We only used our umbrella stroller now. It weighs less than he does. If it ends up sitting in a closet in a hotel the whole time, oh well. If it gets demolished in baggage, you will see no tears from me. It’s so cheap you can just replace it anywhere you go. Yes, we still travel with our Ergo baby carrier, but that folds up nicely into a day pack. These two items save us endless baby carrying in our arms or missing out on another sight down the street because we were walking at toddler pace. 

A compact stroller is a great tool to get you through any, whether you use it every second or not

There you have it. My reality when traveling with a small child. It’s simple. It’s low stress. It helps me keep my sanity.

One last thing the author slips into the article is that traveling with infants isn’t really worth it because they won’t be able to appreciate the wonders of a new country since they haven’t explored much past their main food source. I’ve said it a hundred times and I will say it again, you aren’t traveling just for your kids. My mantra when I was pregnant with Dek was that I would not let it stop my travels. Short of medical necessity we would be hitting the road. It is my wanderlust that gets this family on an airplane and exploring new places. One day I will ask Dek where he wants to go, but for now he is just so excited to ride a plane he doesn’t care where it lands. When his baby brother is here, I won’t be asking him what he thinks he will appreciate more, Disneyland or Versailles. He’s going to Versailles because I want to go there.

This is my reality: on the road with no regrets.

Now that I’ve had my rant, what do you think? Have any travel “rules” you live by?

Need more perspective on the subject? Check out these other bloggers debunking the article right along with me. As you can see, we are passionate about pushing past fears and misconceptions and hitting the road with kids of all ages.

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20 comments

  1. Awesome reply! You’re right, it’s NOT that complicated and a mindful parent can remain in control in a way that benefits the whole family! I’m so happy Dek has YOU for a Mama.

  2. Great travel tips ! Kids are amazingly adaptable and get excited abut going to new places. I think some parents fret over thinking traveling with them would be too daunting and overwhelming. Your article proves that it can be done and the beautiful photos show the results !
    Susan

  3. what a great pep talk keryn! we’re heading off to NYC in 2 weeks with our one year old, and i’m feeling a little anxious, even though it’s only 2 hours away. watching you travel over the years and document your experiences is what’s getting me geared up to go. keep up the awesome work!

  4. Good stuff! I think you gave a perfect picture of how really easy it is to travel with little ones.

  5. I agree, we never bring kid friendly foods for a few reasons:
    1. My oldest is crazy picky but when we travel he is open to trying new foods which he amazingly enjoys.
    2. My baby would rather eat off our plates and he learns all about the great new food out there.

  6. You’re right – kids don’t need you to bring half of the house with you when you’re traveling. Once our kids were old enough to carry a back pack our rule was “you pack it, you carry it” – that way they only brought what they really wanted and learned to leave space in case they found anything special that they wanted to bring home as a souvenir.

    • Lisa- heck, I’m thinking I will just start that right now. He needs a little backpack for preschool. Might as well use that as his travel pack too. Cars and books go in there. If it makes him topple over he is bringing too much ;-)

  7. You know, we killed several $15 umbrella strollers on trips to cities. Sometimes we even bought them at our destination. They were worth it every cent when little legs grew tired of walking, and arms grew tired of carrying. Happy to read an excellent rebuttal from someone who is still in the thick of travel with little ones!

    • I am shocked that this stroller has lasted so long. I am not nice to strollers either. I figured the wheels would be ripped to shreds by now, but no. Like my much more expensive Ergo carrier, it is standing the test of time. But when it does die I’ll just head right back to the store and grab a new one. I do hope they figure out how to recycle them soon though. That’s the only part I feel bad about.

  8. Isn’t it amazing how a few moments (or maybe hours) of planning can make a HUGE difference in traveling with children? My kids do awesome on a plane, but it’s because they know what is expected (no jumping on the seats, please!) and have a few things that are easy to pack. Some paper, crayons and tablet are great travel gear for kids. And kids, no matter what their age, can enjoy travel if Mom and Dad do. It’s all about setting a great example! Thanks for sharing your REAL tips for great travel with kids. :)

  9. This is great, exactly what I do to make sure we all enjoy travel on the road!
    Our stroller is also on its last legs, but because we invested in a top-quality model it has lasted much longer (and been through much more) than we expected.

  10. Good to read about how you travel with a little one, and another one that will be here soon!

    I was so annoyed when i read the article by CNNGO – it sure puts us parents down for wanting to travel with children…and makes it sound so bad when in fact its fun!

    There was so much in the article that I could not agree with – travelling with children makes our family complete!

    Cheers
    Lisa

  11. Absolutely…”Credit was not given to kids. Credit was definitely not given to parents who are actually parenting.” It’s so true that the CNN author made it clear she is not in charge of her kids–sounds like they run her life! Great article…thanks!

  12. Great! I also use the stroller (just a small umbrella one) as a luggage trolley. It has helped so much on the big moving around days. We slow travel and have all of our belongings in the whole world on us so when we change countries that thing comes in handy. Not to mention the times that the 4 year old has simply walked enough but the rest of us want to keep going without carrying an extra 35 pounds:)

  13. Isn’t it funny that once we have kids, people think that the parents shouldn’t have a life? The idea that everything we do is JUST for our kids is preposterous. We traveled around the world because it was my dream, not theirs. They were just the lucky beneficiaries. They have their whole life to live out their dreams.

    • Exactly! It has been my dream to travel since I can remember. Dek is happy to tag along. He can play anywhere, why not all over the world while we see some amazing stuff in the process. Everyone wins!

  14. Trip Styler’s Healthy On The Road contributor swears by the umbrella stroller. And you mention it too…duly noted. Otherwise, this is an encouraging take on travels avec kiddles. Merci.

  15. Great useful tips and encouragement for families contemplating on traveling with young children. Mine are teens now and I remember those days with strollers and baby carriers.

  16. I agree with little common sense, and imagination, traveling with children is great. We went to Hawaii when our son was 8 months old, 6 hour flight no problem. Then we when to Argentina total travel time 18 hours again no issues, our son had a great time. He is now 3 1/2 and he still talks about things we did in Argentina.
    Travel with your kids and travel often.

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